Friday, 22 July 2011

A Meux publican speaks (in 1854)

We're returning to those dusty old government reports. I can't help myself. If you want to hear first-hand about any part of the brewing and pub trade in the 19th century, then Select Committee reports are your man.

In this excerpt a London publican explains how he adulterates his drinks and  - more importantly - why. The year of the hearing,1854, is very significant. It's the year Britain declared was on Russia. True to tradition, the government immediately increased the tax on beer.

At this time beer was not taxed directly, but malt and hops were. The malt tax increased from 2s 7d + 5% per bushel to 4s. per bushel. You needed about 2 bushels of malt to brew a barrel of beer. I make that an increase just under 31d per barrel, or 2s 7d. A barrel contained 36 gallons, making the increases just short of a penny a gallon.

John Caldwell, the publican giving evidence, ran a dance hall and pub in Dean Street, Soho.
"1692. To whom do the houses chiefly belong in your neighbourhood?— Messrs. Meux.

1693. Are Messrs. Meux your brewers?—Yes.

1694. Did they let you the house ?—They let it to me for my sister.

1695. Are you bound to take your beer of Meux and Co. ?—Yes.

1696. The house is taken of Messrs. Meux, is it not?—He holds the lease.

1697. Did you get the licence from the same bench of magistrates?—The licence is transferred to my sister.

1698. Do you consider that you took it of Messrs. Meux?—Yes.

1699. What was the name of the agent or servant of Messrs. Meux who was in there before you ?—A person named Godfrey, a publican.

1700. The house belongs to Messrs. Meux?—Yes; the licence passes from one to another; they hold the lease, and the privilege of serving the beer.

1701. Do you know why Godfrey left the house ?—Yes ; he was a man very badly off, and not doing much business.

1702. Had he been put into the house by Messrs. Meux?—Yes; he took another little public-house, and since then he died. I rose the beer trade a great deal; he was taking £20 a month, and I rose it to nearly £40 a month.

. . . . . . .

1706. Are you a tenant-at-will of Messrs. Meux ?—Yes; they can turn me out at any minute.

1707. If you were to sell any other beer than Meux's ?—I could not.

1708. Sir G. Grey.] Is that by written agreement ?—Yes.

1709. Chairman.] How do you manage about spirits?—Messrs. Meux do not meddle with the spirits or the ales; some brewers have ales as well as beer.

1710. Do you pay so much for the beer to the brewers ?—Yes.

1711. Do you ascertain the quality before you serve it to your customers?— We take it as it comes in, at so much a gallon.

1712. Have you raised it lately ?—Yes.

1313. Is that an arrangement which the brewers have made ?—It is a mutual understanding between the other publicans. The brewers have raised it a farthing a pot, and the publicans round the neighbourhood have raised it a halfpenny a pot.

1714. The brewers did not raise the beer upon the pot?—They rose it so much a barrel ; 3s. or 4s. a barrel.

1715. That would be a farthing a quart?—Yes.

1716. If the brewers charge you a farthing a quart more, where is the propriety of your charging the consumers of the beer a halfpenny a pot more ?—It is on account of the half pints. The charge of a halfpenny a pot extra puts it in the publicans hands to give a better article. They never could serve the article as they have it from the brewer with any profit.

1717. Sir G. Grey.] Do you mean to say that since you have charged a halfpenny a pot extra you have sold better beer ?—I know that I have. I cannot speak as to others.

1718. The brewers charge you a farthing a pot increase for the beer which you sell; have they supplied you with better beer than they did before ?—I cannot say that they have.

1719. Then how are you able to supply better beer now than you did formerly ?—I do not dash it so much.

1720. What do you mean by dashing it?—Pumping the New River into it.

1721. Mr. Lowe.] You could not live by selling the beer at 3d. a pot ?—No ; I am paying 1 s. a gallon for the beer, and I cannot sell it at 3d. a pot and get a living.

1722. Sir G. Grey.] Does the additional charge of one farthing a pot enable you to dash it less ?—Yes.

1723. Do you find that your customers consume more in quantity ?—They do not consume more, that I am aware of. I find a great many people changing their trade now.

1724. Do you mean that people come to your house rather than to others ?— They come to me to ask the price.

1725. In order to see where they can get the beer cheapest and best? —Yes.

1726. Do you dash the beer with nothing but the New River?—No.

1727. Do you put no other admixture into the beer at all ?—No, nothing else.

1728. Chairman.] You do not know that there are such things as salt and sugar used in beer?—I have heard of such things, but I do not use them.

1729. And something to give it bulk and flavour?—There are such things in the trade, I know.

1730. Is there not a little copperas used, to give it a head ?—I never use any such thing.

1731. Sir G. Grey.] Is that called dashing too ?—I do not know.

1732. Mr. Brown.] How long will beer keep without souring, if you dash it ? —I do not know.

1733. If you were to dash it to-day, would it be good to-morrow?—I do not know.

1734. Is the dashing done at the time that you serve it?—No; I never use any mixture.

1735. Chairman.] Do you dash the beer when it first comes from the brewer, or is it done as you serve it to your customers ? — It is done when it is fined down.

1736. Do you dash it just before you begin drawing it off?—When we find one puncheon is getting down, we fine another.

1737. And then you tap the New River ?—Yes.

1738. Sir G. Grey] What proportion of New River water do you dash the beer with ?—If I have a particular beer, and I pay 1s. a gallon, and I have to sell it out at 3d. a pot, I can get nothing by it, but if I put a pail of liquor into it, I must get that amount of profit.

1739. You now sell the beer at 3.5d. a pot?—Yes, over the bar; and 4d. I sell as good beer as you can get in the neighbourhood.

1740. Chairman.] You say that there is a certain amount which the consumers require to drink ?—Yes.

1741. Would they not prefer good beer to this necessary mixture that takes place, of New River water ?—Yes; there is what I should call five per cent. of water put in the beer.

1742. Supposing that the brewers could afford to let you have beer at a rate to enable you to live by selling it, would there not be necessarily a much greater consumption of malt ?—I do not know much about the public-house trade. I have been in this house about three years. I know that one brewer supplies one house, and one another, and that most publicans have a system of doing something to their beer.

1743. There is a difference in price for the same quantity of the same article ; some charge 3d. and some charge 4d. ?—Yes.

1744. Have you the least doubt that every publican who sells beer at 3d. a pot, dashes it in some way, to enable him to sell it at 3d. ?—They cannot sell it at 3d. a pot genuine from the brewer's.

1745. Is it genuine at 4d. a pot ?—I should say so.

1746. Are there any publicans in your neighbourhood who sell beer at 4 d. a pot?—Yes.

1747. Is it as good as you sell now at 3.5d. ?—I sell mine at 4d. over the bar.

1748. You used to sell it at 3d. ?—Yes. I rose it to 4d. when the change in price took place. I said, "I will have no dashing at all; I will sell the article genuine, and I will have a good price." .

1749. If you had risen the beer only a halfpenny a pot, could you have dispensed with the dashing?—No.

1750. You have advanced it a penny ?—Yes.

1751. Then it must be an extraordinary good article?—It is genuine as it comes from the brewery. I serve the pure liquor; and when I sold at 3d. I did not.

1752. Are you aware whether there is anything done to the beer before you get it, dashing or anything else ?—No, I believe it is drawn from the bulk.

1753- Do the brewers let you know the strength and quality of the beer before you have it?—No, I do not know anything of the process.

1754. Do you know at all how the publicans deal with the brewers when they are not quite dependent; do not they require to know the strength of the beer they take ?— I believe so ; a free house is supplied a little lower.

175.5. If the publicans knew precisely at what strength the brewers supplied the beer, it would be easy to tell what was wanted in the beer?—No doubt.

1756. Have you ever had customers come back and say that they have tested the beer, and found that something had been done to it ?—No.

1757. Sir G. Grey.] You said that there was an arrangement between you and the brewers that you should sell only their beer; is there any agreement which prohibits you from dashing it beyond a certain amount?—No.

1758. The brewer supplies the beer, and leaves the publican to mix anything with it that he likes ?—Yes; but it is to the publican's advantage to sell the best article that he can without doing anything to it.

1759. Is there anything in the agreement between the brewer and the publican, to restrict the publican from mixing beer with any other materials ? —No.

1760. Chairman.] The brewer has a great interest in the publican selling a good article, in order to show a good trade whenever he transfers the license?— He transfers the profit to his own pocket.

1761. Has not the brewer a great interest in showing a good trade whenever he transfers the license to a person coming into the house ?—Yes.

1762. That is shown by the quantity sold ?—Yes.

1763. By the number of barrels which the publican has been in the habit of consuming ?—Yes.

1764. And that of course depends upon whether the beer is sold genuine or dashed ?—Yes.

1765. Mr. Broum.] What is the process of fining down?—We put three or four quarts of finings into the barrel when it comes in ; I believe it is isinglass. There is a preparation which you see soaking in the brewhouses; I do not know what the article is; it is sent in a small nine-gallon cask to us, and we put two or three quarts into the beer just before we want it.

1766. Sir G. Gray.] Do you dash the spir1ts as well as the beer ?—Yes, we are obliged to do so ; we pay 12s. a gallon for gin, and we cannot sell it for 10 s. 8 d. a gallon without doing something.

1767. Chairman.] You have a distiller as well as a brewer?—Yes.

1768. The distiller has nothing to do with the house?—Nothing at all.

1769. You have an arrangement with him to supply spirits, and the prices will not admit of your selling a genuine article ?—No ; because gin is raised ; you are obliged to give 12s. a gallon, and you cannot sell it for 10s. 8d. genuine.

1770. Do you resort to the New River in the case of gin ?—I am obliged to do so; to sell it at 4d. a quartern we must do it.

1771. Mr. Brown.] In your particular case have you anything like a gin palace?—People can have anything they like over the bar.

1772. Sir G. Grey.] Is it a public-house that you occupy, or is it what is called a gin palace ?—No, it is not a gin palace.

1773. Chairman.] Is there anything mixed with the gin besides the New River ?—Sugar; we have it unsweetened, and we sweeten it; I do not know what other people do, but I do nothing else."
"The Sessional Papers of the House of Lords in the session 1854; Reports from Select Committees of the House of Commons, and Evidence; Public Houses" "Minutes of Evidence Taken by the Select Committee on Public Houses, etc." pages 95 - 97.

It should come as no surprise that the pub was tied to Meux. Their brewery was only just around the corner on the corner of Tottenham Court Road. As you can see from this map.

I'm fascinated by the details of the relationship between brewer and tenant. It seems to have changed over the years. In the 20th century most brewers tied their tenants for not just beer, but spirits, too. And, in some cases, all soft drinks and crisps and probably even the toilet paper.

Here we learn: "Messrs. Meux do not meddle with the spirits or the ales; some brewers have ales as well as beer." Without understanding the terminology of the day, this wouldn't make sense. By "beer" he means Porter and Stout. This answers a question that had been troubling me. When a pub was tied to a Porter brewery that brewed no Ales, did it just sell Porter? Clearly the answer is no: they bought Ale from another brewer.

As I mentioned at the start, the raw material cots for a barrel had increased by 31d. Or 0.21d.per quart. Pretty much exactly the same amount as the increase in wholesale price. Raising the retail price by a halfpenny doesn't seem odd at all. The retail price always increases by more than the wholesale price. What is shocking, is that the halfpenny increase still left publicans unable to make a profit, unless they watered their beer.

Let's take a look at the mathematics of that. A barrel of beer cost 36s wholesale. And some pubs were selling it for 3d. retail. That's a whopping 0% markup. Clearly no room for profit there. Even selling at 3.5d., there's only 6s profit per barrel. It's no wonder watering beer was endemic.

Dashing. It sounds so, er, dashing. Certainly better than watering or diluting. Mr. Caldwell's evidence on the subject is contradictory. First he says that he sells beer for 3.5d. per pot and only adds "a little" water. Later he says he doesn't water at all and charges 4d. Which is true?

It's clear that the brewers were well aware of the dodgy practices of their landlords. You'd have to be pretty thick not to realise something was going on when they were retailing beer at the wholesale price. Equally clearly the brewers, as long as they were selling beer, couldn't give a toss what happened to it once it passed through their gates.

It's nice to learn exactly when watering occurred: when the beer was fined. No real shock there. The barrel would have to be opened to add the finings. May as well take advantage to throw in some extra water as well.

Seems like your chances of getting pure gin were even smaller. Based on the amounts quoted, a quartern is a quarter pint. Which retailed at 4d. but actually cost the landlord 4.5d. Again, it doesn't take a genius to see that wasn't possible without adulteration.

A fascinating insight in the murky world of  Victorian pubs, don't you think?


Mike said...

I'm curious: assuming the barrels were delivered full, how could a publican add water to it?

Martyn Cornell said...

Freehouses were often, effectively "tied" by taking loans from their suppliers, and the trick was, apparently, to get a loan from your porter supplier, a loan from your ale supplier and a loan from your spirits supplier …

Meux, of course, never started brewing ales until the 1870s.